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The 95% Rule: How Is Pet Food Named? 

Written by Ella White

Updated

Dog enjoying his dinner

Have you ever wondered how dog food brands come up with their names? Sometimes it’s easy, like for us: all our ingredients are on the Front of the Pack. But if you want to highlight the specific ingredients that are in your dog food, there are some rules laid out by the The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) on the FDA’s website that brands have to follow.

You might know that when it comes to human food, the ‘heaviest first’ rule means that manufacturers have to list ingredients in the order they appear in the recipe according to quantity. But this applies only to the ingredient’s pre-cooking weight which is liable to change as food hardens, softens, or releases water so is not always indicative of the true weight within the food.

When it comes to animal food, things are a little less complicated. The naming process must adhere to one of these four ‘rules’:

  • The 95% Rule
  • The 25% or “Dinner” Rule
  • The 3% or “With” Rule
  • The Flavor Rule

It doesn't just make the naming process easier, but it also helps dog owners really understand exactly what’s in the meal’s they’re feeding their furry friends. 

The 95% Rule

If a kind of meat is the first ingredient listed in the name of a dog food, then that meat must make up at least 95% of the named ingredient on the label. 

This is mainly applicable to wet and canned dog food, and means that when you pick up ‘Chicken Dog Food’ that product is guaranteed to be at least 95% chicken.

If the dog food contains two ingredients, like ‘Chicken and Turkey Dog Food’ then together these two ingredients have to make up 95% of the overall product. 

What’s more, the ingredient with the larger quantity must be named first. So in this example, our product contains more chicken than turkey, but combined the chicken and turkey account for at least 95% of all the ingredients.

This rule only applies to meat products. Ingredients not derived from animals can be named, but ‘Chicken and Broccoli Dog Food’ would still need to be made up of at least 95% chicken.

The 25% Rule (also known as the “Dinner” Rule)

A slightly more confusing rule applies to products with a named meat ingredient that makes up no less than 25% and no more than 95% of the total product.

The 25% rule, or ‘dinner’ rule states that manufacturers can name their products ‘Chicken Dinner for Dogs’ or ‘Chicken Formula’ or similar so long as chicken makes up at least a quarter of the total ingredients. This still leaves room for another ingredient to be the ‘main’ product by weight. But the descriptor of ‘dinner’ or ‘entree’ or ‘nuggets’ allows the meat product to be included in the name.

Another slight complication in this rule is that if two products are named, for example ‘Chicken and Turkey Dinner for Dogs,’ then both chicken and turkey combined must make up 25% of the total ingredients – but neither one can account for less than 3% of the total. Unlike the 95% rule, this also applies to non-animal ingredients within the 25% rule.

The issue here for dog owners is that dog food that runs by the 25% rule could include something you don’t want them eating as the main ingredient. This highlights why it’s so important to always read the packaging and know exactly what’s in your dog’s food before you serve it. 

After all, if that Chicken Dinner for Dogs is actually 75% oatmeal and Fido is allergic to gluten, then he’s in trouble – and there’s nothing the dog food company will do about it.

The 3% or “With” Rule

If you want to name an ingredient that isn’t actually one of the major elements of your dog food recipe, then it must make up at least 3% of the total product and can be named as ‘with’ that ingredient – hence the 3% or ‘with’ rule.

This means that ‘Chicken Dog Food with Turkey’ would be at least 95% chicken and at least 3% turkey. However, manufacturers could just as easily name their product ‘Dog Food with Turkey’ which sounds a lot like ‘Chicken Dog Food’ but the simple switch in wording means the former contains just 3% Turkey and the latter contains at least 95% chicken.

Once again, this rule exemplifies the importance of reading the back of the pack to truly understand what’s in the food you feed your dog – even with stringent rules in place, it’s easy to be taken unawares by unwanted ingredients. Can you see why we put everything on the front of the pack now? 

The “Flavor” Rule

The astute might have noticed that in both the human and dog food words, the word ‘flavor’ appears frequently in product names. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the product contains none of that ingredient at all but, in the case of dog foods, it does mean the manufacturers are not required to adhere to a specific quantity within the recipe.

So as long as ‘Chicken Flavor Dog Food’ has the word ‘flavor’ displayed in the same font size and color as ‘chicken’ it doesn’t really matter how much chicken is in there – or if it’s chicken at all. 

According to the flavor rule, ‘Chicken Flavor Dog Food’ can contain actual chicken, chicken broth, byproducts of chicken meat, or even just chicken ‘flavoring’ (and none of the meat at all) and still use the word ‘Chicken’ in the product name.

Interestingly, ‘specially trained’ testing animals are used to help confirm that a dog food really does contain the ‘flavor’ stated in the name (which is a room we’d love to be in). And if that testing animal says it tastes like chicken – despite containing absolutely no chicken – then ‘Chicken Flavor Dog Food’ it is.

The 100% Rule

More of a no-brainer than a rule, a product marketed as dog food or treats called simply ‘Chicken’ must be 100% chicken. This isn’t just to prevent false advertising, like the previous rules. But it’s to help owners understand that more products will be needed to supplement this 100% chicken product, which cannot provide a dog with a well-rounded diet.

Dogs cannot survive on a single protein, and need a healthy mix of pure and natural vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and other proteins from foods like fruits, vegetables, and plants. Which is why Front of the Pack’s pure animal protein snacks are just that – snacks.

For a full and nutritious diet, Front of the Pack’s dog food is loaded with protein from animals alongside organic fruit, veg, and other pure ingredients. All air-dried low and slow to lock in the goodness your dog needs to live a happy and healthy life and with no added nasties, you’ll find everything you need to know right on the Front of the Pack.